Between the ages of 11 and 18, Glenn Cooper spent just six months outside institutions. The horrific physical, sexual and emotional abuse he suffered and which led to an apology from the NSW Government would have broken many young men, but Glenn has rebuilt his life in Frankston and now dedicates his time to empowering the disadvantaged through counselling and the charity That’s The Thing About Fishing.
Glenn and his sister grew up in Sydney with their alcoholic mother and stepfather, where violence was the norm. His sister was the first to run away, and when 10-year-old Glenn was thrown outside naked in the rain and lashed with a whip, he followed her lead. “To survive I broke into homes to get food and clothing, then after being caught I was locked up in an institution with 300 boys,” Glenn says.
At a youth institution in Mittagong, a man who saved Glenn from being raped taught him to fight and survive. Released at 13, Glenn stole a car and was sent to Daruk Boys Home, where he was caned and boys were sexually assaulted. Released briefly at 15, Glenn became involved with a gang and got into a brawl in which he stabbed others with a “dirty big knife”. This resulted in him being sent to Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre. At his sentencing, the magistrate asked if Glenn’s parents were present. His mother stood and declared: “I don’t want to know him. He’s not my son and I don’t want to see him again. I hate him.” Nothing could sting more and that was the last he saw of his mother.
Glenn describes the institutions he was sent to as training grounds for criminals. “They were supposed to protect us, but boys were raped and bashed.”
When he was 18, Glenn became a bouncer at the notorious Pink Pussycat strip club in Kings Cross, which was rife with underworld activity. Over the next six years, he would be shot at and stabbed a staggering eight times, before moving to Melbourne and becoming the owner of a brothel in St Kilda.
Glenn has been jailed for theft and assault, but after meeting his now ex-wife he found solace in the church. Between 1985 and 2002, Glenn worked selflessly with street kids like him and the disadvantaged before joining the Salvation Army to continue these efforts and work within the court system.
“I forgave my mother and it released me from that burden, leaving behind the insecurity and rejection I had felt.”
After returning to a security job in 2006, an incident involving three violent drunks put him in a wheelchair for five years. Then a stint on Mornington Peninsula radio station RRP FM with a show called That’s The Thing About Fishing culminated in a 2014 kids’ fishing clinic, forming the basis of the charity that now attracts 4000 people each year.
That’s The Thing About Fishing is big on social inclusion and allows people with disabilities, troubled youth and others to cast away their problems by experiencing the wonders of fishing. Headspace, Peninsula Health, Parks Victoria, Yooralla, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and specialist schools are hooked on the volunteer-run programs at Frankston Pier and on the bay. “We are changing lives one life at a time,” Glenn says. “The joy of fishing is contagious; we have given people with depression purpose and direction.”
Glenn was nominated for Frankston’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award and provides advocacy on domestic violence, crime prevention and a range of community issues, including establishing a committee for a breakfast club supporting the needy. Recently he received an apology from the NSW Government for the institutionalised abuse he suffered: “It is clear from the material in your statement you so bravely shared that you experienced sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse, cruelty and humiliating treatment during your times in these institutions. The abuse you suffered is reprehensible and should never have occurred. The State of New South Wales apologises to you sincerely and unreservedly for the way in which you were treated in State institutions.”
Glenn says the apology meant “nothing” because he believes this behaviour still occurs. “I deal with it on a daily basis. We have a lot to do to protect lives and improve accountability to children going through the system.”
That’s The Thing About Fishing is Glenn’s pride, and financial support will support its work in restoring lives. You can donate at www.givenow.com.au/tttaf